Playwrights' Perspectives

Playwright's Perspective: Bella

By Kirsten Childs, Playwright

This musical is the result of something I experienced while coming home to my apartment one bright, sunny day. A young African American couple was ahead of me, walking in the same direction. The woman was short and voluptuous, her most outstanding feature her gloriously shaped Venus Hottentot behind (Google it on your iPhone). As I walked behind the couple, the most amazing thing happened.

I wanted to flip that script, to create a new myth celebrating the power and beauty of the black female body.

Every man coming from the other direction…and I mean every man — old, young, rich, poor, you name the ethnicity — every man stopped, turned, and stared at that woman’s behind. I slowed down my walk so that I could continue to watch them all, staring and staring and staring, so spellbound they’d even forgotten to catcall.

The significance of what I was witnessing didn’t hit me until much later. That zaftig little woman was an American dream girl, as sensual and iconic as Marilyn Monroe. But in white America, her larger-than-life appeal has all too often been dismissed, disparaged, or appropriated. Well, I wanted to flip that script, to create a new myth celebrating the power and beauty of the black female body, with all the joy, fun, silliness and sorrow, heartbreak and triumph of the black woman’s experience in America. And what better way to frame such a uniquely larger-than-life figure than in that uniquely American form, the tall tale?

So I placed my big-bootied heroine in the nineteenth century American West — and ran into a problem. Black people didn’t exist from the Civil War to the Civil Rights era. I mean, of course they existed — I wouldn’t be here if they didn’t. But they didn’t exist in the history books I grew up reading in school. Thank heavens for the New York Public Library’s Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture. They’re so dedicated to preserving the history of black folks in America that I was actually able to discover a documented interview with an enslaved ancestor of mine…but that’s another story for another time.

Anyway, once I found out about all the cowboys (one in four cowboys were people of color) and mail-order brides and settlers and circus performers and countless other vibrant people of color out on the Western frontier, there was no question that my heroine and I needed to take a wild, exciting journey out West. Now it’s your turn to travel our world. Bon voyage!